God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Who am I to judge – a developing story

“The history of homosexuals in our society is a very bad history because we have done a lot to marginalize them. It is not so long ago and so as church and as society we have to say sorry,”, so the German Cardinal Marx somehow in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting and it seems the walls of the fortress Catholic church seems to coming down. Even worse Pope Francis re-affirms his “Marxist Cardinal”, as he jokey called him and the tremors can be felt on twitter and in statements all over the Catholic world. Cardinal Napier fears for the worst according to his twitter account and even revokes God’s help on this subject. Also in the USA bishops feel either called to testify to the effect that Catholic wording has contributed to the hate and discrimination of LGBTI people while others see no harm in calling their brothers and sisters “intrinsic evil”. It seems Orlando has taken off the gloves in the Catholic church when it comes to the question of same-sex love and its consequences in life.
This is in principle good so because it opens up a debate and reflection on a seemingly hot potato clerics were not even allowed to whisper loud in the times of Pope Benedict XVI without risking to be reprimanded heavily.  The rifts, the different opinions, the soul-searching can now start in earnest – and as with most things in our days society has been in the lead while the church tries to catch up with matters important for those not falling in the “hetero” category.
I guess if we agree that we all are on our way to understand God’s good creation, if we agree that listening to each others stories without judgement or prejudice would be the order of today then Orlando might become a turning point in the relationship between the biggest faith communities and the LGBTI community in this world. A tragedy turned into a blessing for those at the margins of our church longing to be fully accepted in their God-given way of love and commitment. The teaching of the church always has developed – from how we saw slavery till the judgement on democracy, freedom of religion and so many more – because our knowledge and insight developed. Even in the bible we see this development from a God of war and killing fields slowly being recognized as a God of peace and love and understanding. We as church are always on the way, we always have to listen, to discern – and maybe the biggest sin of a faith community can be to be so anxious of new insights or more closeness to God and his children that there is simply a refusal to walk forward.

Moses, Abraham and all the prophets called the chosen people again and again out of all safety zones to conquer the promised land. All those stories also tell us of failure, of turning back to the seemingly “good old days” , telling us of penance, of God’s willingness to forgive and to continue the alliance between God and mankind.

Let’s remember that the concept of homosexuality is a very modern and new one. No Jew of the Old Testament nor Jesus did know about it. So let’s start to discern, lets start to look anew at what is God telling us – let’s listen to voices like Pope Francis and Cardinal Marx and dare to dream of the people of God including all in his love without labeling some as “intrinsic evil”.

Working in the fields of the HIV pandemic which indeed has hit the LGBTI community the hardest the influence of faith of the lives of people is clearly to be seen. The religious views of Ronald Reagan contributed heavily to the ignorance government showed in the USA when HIV emerged because it was just killing gays. With proper unbiased action 32 million people would not have to suffer today and millions would still be alive. Faith can change the world for better or for worse.

Filed under: Catholic Church, HIV and AIDS, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gloves are off?

The clock is ticking and the preparations for the synod of the bishops to discuss family and marriage matters are in full swing. Some churches publish their findings on the questionnaire, others treat it as a sort of highly secretly exercise. Some parts of the hierarchy asked frankly those called the laity, others compiled answers without elaborating on the ways how they did it. In Germany it seems that the topic is highly contested. Cardinal Marx from Munich made it very clear that in the question of divorced and remarried couples, the church must be able to consider all their options. This was in answer to soon-top-be Cardinal Mueller in Rome, who insisted already upfront that nothing can be changed at all. Only to be reprimanded by an South American Cleric in the same rank that there is more to it than just dogmatic insistence. The Diocese of Freiburg published a guideline for the possibility in some instances for a blessing of a second marriage and communion for those who are divorced and remarried. Which obviously drew flag from Mueller in Rome again, who insisted that people living in a second marriage are living in sin and therefore are excluded from Holy Communion.
Such debates are not new – I remember that  then Bishop of Rottenburg – Stuttgart and now Cardinal Kasper, then Bishop and now Cardinal Karl Lehmann from Mainz as well as Archbishop Oscar Saier from Freiburg published a letter to the faithful on the 10th of July 1993 declaring that in case of a remarried divorce, the priest must find out in a talk “whether that, what is right in general, also applies for the situation of the couple concerned”. It’s the simple question of oikonomia, one of the acknowledged traditions of the Orthodox church through all ages till today which is in principle also recognized in the Roman-Catholic Church, but not for marriage cases. Oikonomia means that there is a law (like the marriage is for ever) but it acknowledges that humans can fail and for the greater good of the people involved and because of the unconditional love of God to be experienced through the church, there is a solution to start anew without denying the general rule.  The Orthodox church requires a time of penance and acknowledgement of failure before allowing the new marriage. And I think it’s right so: Couples tend to think that love never ends when they get married and it is for most horrible to experience failure and the ceasing of love. There is need for a time of reflection, soul-searching before restarting life again. So saying that there is only the Roman Catholic alternative of being faithful to the letter of the law is cheating the people of alternatives which have proven their value through 2000 years without compromising faith. In 1993 the reaction of then head of the department for doctrine, Cardinal Ratzinger was sharp and direct: He found the Bishops being unfaithful and in opposition to the teaching of the church and that was end of the story. Thanks God times have changed and at least it is allowed in church now to think again – at least in most parts of it.

Bishop Ackermann from Trier, one of the younger bishops in Germany made his standpoint quite clear in a series of interviews. After the German Bishops Conference published parts of the finding of the laity for the synod, the Bishop was asked about sex before marriage, contraception, same-sex marriage and the question of divorce and remarriage. He stated that not every sexual act before marriage can be considered a great sin, the question of distinguishing between “artificial contraception” and ‘natural contraception” is in his opinion artificial itself. Even on the question of same-sex partnerships he clearly stated that there is no way of conducting a marriage as understood by the church, but he admitted that he would not refuse to  bless a same-sex couple, if they would come up for a blessing in one of the services dedicated to couples and their love ending with a personalized blessing for each couple. I guess it is a sensitive answer, it shows that there is acknowledgement of love between to people independent from their sexual orientation, but it makes at the same time clear, that there is a difference how church and theology defines marriage and the state defines it. Same sex partnerships are not a marriage in a sacramental way as understood by the church – I often think if the church would put all the energy it takes to fight the state on same-sex partnerships instead would put into supporting marriage and family life in parishes it would surely look better on this side.  Church and state are different entities with different definitions of certain aspects of life which indeed can be lived next to each other without fighting. I read once a quote from Cardinal Napier which stated that civil partnerships have nothing to do with the church. Right so, if that is the case don’t fight them. But I also have to admit that I still don’t like the word “same-sex marriage” – same rights yes, but create another word, less burdened with a long tradition leading, yes asking for debates dividing people unnecessarily.

Following the internet debates on all those topics it seems that the gloves are off and all parties concerned are anxious to get their message through. It shows how divided the church is on that topic and that in the last 30 years the rift was covered up through tough measures against anybody even asking the right questions. Academic theologians were to scared to research freely as they had to fear not to get into teaching with the blessing of the official church. Doctrine was everything – but times have changed and as a bishop in South Africa put it: “We are allowed to think again and to debate questions without fear”. This is indeed a step in the right direction and I only hope that all this debate ends up not with winners and losers but with the unconditional love of God being personalized in those leading the church so that everybody can see and experience that faith is an assistance to life and not a constant headache.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

25.10.2009 Ignorance and the sensus fidei

The following interview from Cardinal Napier (Durban) was given to the the Vatic an newsletter, several news station report:

Cardinal says media has ignored work of African bishops’ synod

Three weeks of intensive discussion among African bishops about the challenges they face in their poor and often war-torn countries have been largely ignored by the media, a South African cardinal said. Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban and a co-president of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, also has complained that news about Africa in newspapers and on television in the rest of the world is usually bad news, and that positive stories are rarely reported. The Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, asked Cardinal Napier Oct. 23 whether sufficient attention had been given to the synod; he replied, “Absolutely not. It’s been very little.” Some Catholic newspapers and radio stations across Africa covered the synod, which was to close Oct. 25, but “as far as the rest of the media is concerned, I don’t think they are doing much,” the cardinal said. “Spiritual or religious things are not reported, unless they are controversial,” he said. “In that case,” he added, “they are sure to be published!” The 275 members of the synod have discussed a vast array of topics regarding the church’s work in Africa, including economic injustice, war, hunger, Christian-Islamic dialogue, family life, environmental exploitation and the particular plight of women, just to name a few. Even before the Vatican newspaper interview, Cardinal Napier had taken a gentle swipe at the media for ignoring the positive aspects of the continent while emphasizing disasters and tragedies. “Africa is much more,” he told journalists Oct. 14. “It embodies values and abilities that can offer spiritual richness, even to the rest of the world.” He admitted in the L’Osservatore interview that the bishops themselves during the synod presented the difficulties faced in Africa, often dramatically. “We are trying to describe the African reality, and unfortunately it must be said that in many parts there are serious problems,” he said. But, the cardinal said, “there are also positive realities,” like the reconciliation processes in Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa. “We should ask the media to announce good news as well,” he said. An example of good news that most media outlets would tend to ignore, he said, “is the growth and deepening of the faith there.”

In this interview he also complained that the church is only judged in the fields of HIV and AIDS in terms of the condom issue, leaving out the great work the church is doing otherwise in this field. I agree with the cardinal. But for me, this shows how sensitive and critical this issue is for the public and that since 1968 this issue has not been resolved within our own church. The “sensus fidelium”, necessary for the churches’s speaking about truth as one criteria, has even 40 years later refused to embrace the well-known encyclica in its entireness. We as the church can try to ignore this matter of fact, but it will not go away. It will bite us until we confront ourselves as church with this reality.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Reflection, , , , , , , , , ,

13th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 27th, 2018
75 days to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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